Nov 03 - 09, 2003 



Faisalabad, an important industrial and commercial centre having brackish underground water, has been experiencing shortage of sweet drinking water for some time. Efforts by the Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) to sink tubewells on the banks of the Jhang Branch Canal had to be put in abeyance due to strong protest marches by the villagers of the surrounding areas. The villagers fear that the underground water table which is already deep will further recede with the installation of tubewells by Wasa and the villagers would not have water for growing crops or for drinking purposes. Luckily the situation was controlled and the protesters dispersed due to timely action of the concerned officials. The district government very wisely has since constituted a committee to examine and amicably resolve all the issues to the satisfaction of all the stakeholders. The committee has not met so far and recently there has been call from various elected representatives for holding of early meetings to resolve this matter through dialogue.

Confronting situation due to pumping of sweet groundwater, like in Faisalabad, might develop in the coming years in other large cities facing water shortages. Therefore, it is imperative that Faisalabad situation is studied thoroughly to resolve the issues fairly and in a transparent manner. Independent water experts might also be associated with the committee to ascertain the true impact of pumping at such a large scale and to advise the committee for an amicable solution, acceptable to all stakeholders. This would also help develop equitable policy guidelines and procedures to be followed for groundwater pumping to ensure sustained sweet water supply for other cities facing water shortages and at the same time to protect the people of the area from where groundwater would be pumped out. The situation in Faisalabad, as understood from the press reports is summarized below:

1. According to the Wasa, the district's current water production capacity was 65 million gallons a day against 125 million gallons required for the 75 per cent of the population. Keeping in view the rate of population growth, the demand for water would increase to over 165 and 200 million gallons a day up to 2005 and 2010, respectively. The proposed project being delayed due to villagers' demonstrations would add 20 million gallons of water. Internationally, 2003 has been announced as the Year of Clean Water. A pamphlet dealing with Asia mentions that in Faisalabad, some two thirds of the city's two million inhabitants live in largely unserviced areas and that over half have no piped water and less than a third have sewers. This is an unenviable situation. The Wasa has to take this challenge and provide sweet water and sanitation facilities to all the people within the next few years.

2. After a brief survey, the Wasa team had selected the present site along the Jhang Branch Canal for installing 12 tubewells to get water for citizens of Faisalabad. The villagers living along the Jhang Branch Canal, on becoming aware of the Wasa project, staged demonstration against the project, asking the Wasa to find some other site for the installation of tubewells for the provision of drinking water to the urban population. The protesters, including many elected representatives, gathered on Faisalabad-Sargodha Road and disturbed traffic flow by erecting barricades. Carrying banners and placards, they also chanted slogans against Wasa officials. The protesters, including some women, also marched on their area roads and threatened to launch a protest movement if the Wasa did not withdraw its decision. The villagers claimed that the underground water in their area had already gone down due to installation of the tubewells by the farmers to irrigate their lands. The tubewell water was the only source of irrigating crops due to unavailability of canal water in the area. A team of senior police officers assured them that a joint meeting of villagers and elected representatives of the area would be arranged with the District Nazim, the DCO, the Wasa MD, and the DPO to reach an agreed formula. At this, the protesters dispersed peacefully. It may be mentioned that earlier, the Wasa under the same project had planned to install tubewells on the bank of river Chenab but was forced to abandon the site after strong protest from the people of Chiniot and the villagers from the surrounding villages.



3. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had approved Rs 4 billion grant for the provision of sweet water to citizens of Faisalabad in 1997. The Wasa authorities selected the site on the bank of river Chenab in Chiniot tehsil. After the nuclear tests in May 1998, the JICA like other donor agencies suspended all grants for Pakistan due to which this water supply project could not progress. The Wasa authorities through their efforts succeeded in reviving the JICA grant for Faisalabad. The Wasa and foreign engineers finalized a plan and started the operation on the site for the installation of tubewells. In the meantime, the people of Chiniot, including elected members of local councils, provincial and national assemblies, launched a vigorous protest campaign against the Wasa decision and forced it to find some alternative site for the project. After a brief survey of the city, the team selected the present site along the Jhang Branch Canal. There are conflicting reports about JICA response to the protest by the villagers. Knowing the requirement of the impact assessment of any project on local population, it is likely that JICA might wait for the release of the grant funds to a time the matter is satisfactorily resolved with the villagers from areas around the present site.

4. A high-level committee, comprising members of the provincial assembly, tehsil and union council Nazims, Wasa managing-director, and representatives of farmers, has been constituted under the chairmanship of the DCO to resolve the issue of sinking of tubewells along the Jhang Branch canal. The committee has been constituted at a meeting of the government functionaries, chaired by the District Nazim. The committee was asked to negotiate with all the stakeholders and formulate workable proposal to reach an agreement. At this meeting, the area Nazims criticized Wasa for initiating the project without taking them into confidence. Another Nazims said that differences over water supply project would be resolved amicably and that the people of the area would be consulted in this regard and their apprehensions would be removed.



5. Some of the elected representatives said that the Water Supply Project is imperative to provide drinking water to the water starved people of Faisalabad and nobody would be allowed to sabotage it on any pretext. WASA is catering to the needs of only 45% of its population and the remaining people are forced to depend on unhygienic sources of water, which is main cause of diseases in the city. Some vested interests are unnecessarily exploiting this project for their own political motives. Water supply is a humanitarian issue and politics over it is unacceptable.

Water is source of all life. Sweet water sources are being depleted at a fast rate. A time is fast approaching when all easily accessible sweet water sources would exhaust. Through concerted efforts, all of us should conserve the existing resources and in the meantime also develop other sources of potable water for self and the coming generations. Large cities like Faisalabad are not likely to rid of drinking water shortages without commitment to a long-term Water Vision, of which the main element could be as under:

1- Recognition by the people that drinking water (or for that matter even irrigation water) is fast becoming scarce and conservation measures have to seriously start now. Water management measures are to be initiated in houses, mosques, factories, commercial enterprises, etc. for that matter in every place where clean water is consumed. Excessive use of drinking water wherever it happens has to be stopped. Wastages of water through pipe leakages or mal-functioning taps have to be controlled. Water saved through these measures would one day be available to quench the thirst of many and possible save many lives.

2- Many industries or business establishments these day use drinking quality water for applications where lower quality brackish water could be functionally as good as the drinking water. Through print or other media awareness among people need to be developed to the importance of such measures which might save large quantity of potable water. These days every where drinking quality water is used to flush the toilets. This has to be changed by switching over to the use of brackish water. The Wasa might consider providing pumping and storage of brackish water with a view to facilitate people start using brackish water for the flushing of the toilets.

3- Building of water infrastructure requires lot of financial resources, which mostly are arranged by borrowings or in exceptional cases through grants from friendly countries or institutions. At present a small portion is met through user charges. The user charges need to be rationalized along with the installation of water meters. Households should in due course pay full water charges according to the water consumed. This is a pre-requisite to sustain Wasa operations on long-term basis. This measure would help the consumers realize the importance of water conservation and management.



4- To meet drinking water demand on sustained basis, the cities must develop alternate sources for supply of clean water. For Faisalabad, a comprehensive approach for water supply might include supply from the River Chenab and/or the Jhang Branch Canal, harvesting of rain water, pumping of under ground sweet water and the reuse of water after treatment. In addition, the Wasa might consider setting-up of pilot desalination plant to make the under ground brackish water into good quality drinking water. New technologies for this purpose are being used and the city might also seriously explore the possibilities. According to press reports, a desalination plant has been installed in Cholistan for the treatment of brackish water to make it fit for human consumption. This was stated by Cholistan Development Authority (CDA) managing director at Bahawalpur on 18th September 2003. The plant reportedly started functioning a day earlier at Derawar Fort, about 70 kilometers from Bahawalpur. It has been said that the plant was installed at a cost of over Rs0.70 million in six months. It has the capacity to treat 3,000 gallons of water within eight hours and its operational cost would be nominal. It is said to be the first desalination plant installed in the country. The capacity of the desalination plant is small and it cannot meet the demand. It has been reported that CDA would be laying four pipelines to supply drinking water to the Cholistanis this year at a cost of Rs157 million. There is need to study the working of the CDA desalination plant for possible duplication in cities which have brackish ground water.

5- The Wasa might consider requesting allocation of water out of the River Chenab and/or the Jhang Branch Canal. Such water can be easily turned into quality drinking water at a reasonable cost. In addition, the city may have to erect water treatment plants so that the treated water is provided to the industries for re-use or to the agriculture for growing crops. The quality of the treated water would largely depend on the quality of untreated water, extensiveness of the treatment process used and the cost of operation of the treatment plant. Perhaps different treatment plants would be erected to properly treat the type of effluent water available. Instead of discharging untreated sewage or industry effluent water into the water channels/rivers, it would be better if only treated water is returned to the water channels.



6- The Wasa might also remain in touch with the Ministry of Environment which reportedly intends to install pilot projects for clean drinking water in various parts of the country. The Ministry of Environment would install 155 water purification plants carrying capacity of 2,000 gallons per hour at public places and 50 plants of 60 gallons/hour capacity at schools in different cities of the country, under the project named "Clean Drinking Water Initiative Project" at an estimated cost of Rs 195 million. The non-availability of clean drinking water is becoming a critical issue and has resulted in increased incidence of hepatitis and other water-borne diseases.

7- The Wasa might modernize its own systems and procedures particularly in the design, execution and operation of its various projects. Clean water that is reasonably priced coupled with sanitation would be particularly required for enhancing competitiveness of the industry and businesses in the WTO regime from January 2005 when all quotas would be abolished. Both drinking water and sanitation projects would face minimal problems in execution if these are developed through participatory approach and coordination among all the stakeholders.

There is compelling need to tackle the problem of drinking water at national level. Different water authorities might consider adopting a proactive approach in these matters and approach the provincial and federal government for taking appropriate measures for ensuring adequate quantity of clean water for drinking in the coming years. Policies and procedures might be developed through participation of all the stakeholders. Suitability of technologies being procured for water treatment plants or brackish water desalination plants as well as their operating costs could be shared among water authorities of different cities and regions. Through collective research and development it is possible to adapt the technologies to our conditions and also to fabricate these treatment plants locally. The country stands a better chance of tackling the drinking water issues through a coordinated, fair and transparent approach among all the stakeholders.